The battle for Jerusalem’s Damascus Gate offers a rare beacon of hope | Middle East Eye3 Maggio 2021
As Ramadan began this month, Palestinians heading towards the Old City found the plaza in Damascus Gate blocked by metal barriers. The barricades had been erected by Israeli occupation forces to prevent Palestinian youths from gathering on the steps of the gate, where they are accustomed to spending the long Ramadan nights.
The installation of these impediments sparked the latest round of confrontations between Israeli forces and Palestinian youths over the gateway to the Old City.
On 25 April, after nearly a fortnight of escalating clashes, Israeli occupation forces withdrew from Damascus Gate, and Palestinians raucously removed the barricades. The jubilant cheers and chants accompanying this moment invoked a similarly iconic episode of reclamation. On 28 July 2017, thousands of Palestinians marched into Al-Aqsa Mosque after two weeks of popular protests had pressured Israel into removing metal detectors at the compound’s entrances.
Israel has aimed to abolish the status of Jerusalem as an urban, unifying centre for all Palestinians
The latest wave of confrontations started with hundreds of Palestinian youths spontaneously gathering in the vicinity of the closed plaza, in defiance of Israeli restrictions. Their mere presence rattled Israeli forces, who sought to turn the whole area into a pathway where gathering was forbidden. Amid this increased repression, the youths responded by hurling stones and fireworks at Israeli forces.
On 22 April, Israeli settler groups convened a nationalist march to Damascus Gate, adding fuel to the already raging fire. The confrontations expanded beyond the Damascus Gate area, reaching other Jerusalem neighbourhoods and villages.
Most of the protagonists in this latest round of confrontations are young Palestinians, many without prior experience in political action. Their youthful fearlessness has been reflected in their reaction to Israeli repression, including smashing police cars, attacking surveillance cameras and chasing settlers. Dozens have been arrested or injured.
Three interlinked factors can help us trace the path that led to this latest conflagration: people’s bond to Damascus Gate, settler assaults against Palestinians, and an entrenched process of “social engineering” by Israeli authorities targeting the city’s Palestinian youth.
Preserving the right to sit on the steps of Damascus Gate has underlined this round of clashes. People have successfully reclaimed the plaza as a Palestinian and Arab space during the last decade, with this reclamation rooted in a series of vigils and protests, alongside political, social and cultural activities.